Science Fiction Microstory Contest discussion

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JANUARY 2018 MICROSTORY CONTEST - CRITIQUES ONLY

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message 1: by Marianne (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 352 comments This string is for critiques only. Please refer to the story string for contest rules and requirements.


message 2: by C. (last edited Jan 05, 2018 11:31AM) (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 734 comments Critiques by C. Lloyd Preville

REBIRTH
By Tom Olbert

This is another great story from Tom, which sets the stage with Corrinne’s determination to kill her sexually abusive father, the villainous leader of an oppressive regime.

Tom cleverly uses entertainment droids to fulfill the Guy Lombardo reference, as part of a large New Year’s Eve celebration event featuring the ceremonial execution of her father’s most dangerous political enemy.

Suddenly, the secretly hacked troupe of historically accurate mechanical musicians turns on her father and his security forces, killing them with gay abandon while continuing to perform their musical number. The photon torpedoes fired from the trombone was a particularly ironic twist.

Corrinne launches her assassination plan, rigs the floating city to crash, and escapes to live another day.

I liked the flow and action of the story. I liked the humor used in the murderous android attack for the Guy Lombardo tie-in. And I liked the overall structure and flow of the simple revenge plot, underway as the story opens. The 750 word limit doesn’t feel constraining or rushed at all.

My only suggestion for improvement would be to avoid moving the point of focus around too much; it’s a bit disconcerting. By switching the point of view around so much, the story seemed to lurch a bit. An easy fix for this feeling of lurching from one view to another would be to simplify and make more subjective, less objective, the descriptions of the action.

Here’s a paragraph from the story, and then an alternative example to demonstrate my point:
As in the story: Corrinne fought back the tears as a young woman whom she had long secretly admired was brought shackled, bloodied and battered…lifted by two guardsmen with anti-grav belts and brought before the Leader. Corrinne hid her disgust as her father licked his lips, looking over Forbes’ half-naked body and reaching for her. Forbes snarled hatefully and spat in the Leader’s face. Corrine hid a smirk. Her father scowled and ordered Forbes spread eagled and manacled to a blood-stained sacrificial altar before the throne. The crowd howled and jeered as Lombardo waved his baton, the band played and the android likeness of Kenny Gardner began his rendition of “Sioux City Sue,” the Cliff Grass and Fred Higmann droids backing him, the Bill Flanagan android accompanying on guitar.

Suggested alternative example with less POV shifting: Corrinne watched as a young woman was hauled before them by two anti-gravity belted guardsman. She was shocked to recognize this shackled, bloodied and battered woman as her secretly admired hero, Susan Forbes. Corrinne turned to see her father licking his lips, looking over Forbes’ half-naked body. She turned back, disgusted, as Forbes snarled hatefully and spat in the Leader’s face. Her father scowled and then ordered Forbes immediately spread eagled and manacled to a blood-stained sacrificial altar before the throne. Corrinne listened to the crowd’s howls and jeers as she watched Lombardo tap his baton loudly, alerting the band to begin. As the music started, the android likeness of Kenny Gardner belted out “Sioux City Sue.”

Time The Avenger By G.C. Groover

Jason lived in “Downrange,” a poor community in a economically isolated and split world. The police come to take him to what he believes will be his doom for some trumped-up charge. But it turns out he’s the random winner of an annual lottery, where the lucky winner is firmly installed into the upper echelon of society. Nice.

I liked the simple flow of the plot and the skillful use of description and dialog. The story combined vivid descriptions with an adept internal character voice. And I liked the obviously comprehensive research, bringing in Guy Lombardo’s less-famous speed boat racing career and accomplishments.

I thought the use of the “nemesis” theme was weak, but I liked the "Downrange" concept. Overall, this was a skillfully implemented and well-written tale.

Jam Black by Kalifer Deil

This was a first-person narrative and folksy tale of Jam Black seeking his nemesis, an android.

It turns out after a complex but brief chase, Jam finds his quarry and it’s revealed that Jam Black is a “tin can” just like his nemesis. “Jam” is an acronym for “Just Another Machine.” They’re old pals as well as old enemies.

There are lots of back-up copies of both personalities, and apparently nuclear weapons are fired off like so many bottle rockets by the two combatants seeking to destroy the other, which never happens because it’s always a Memorex copy and never a “me.”

Collateral damage is not much of a concern, and I’d imagine there are lots of glass-crusted giant smoking craters scattered all around the globe from the story’s conclusion.

I thought the use of the Guy Lombardo requirement was a bit weak, but I liked the clever use of the “Jam” reference.

A New Year's Quantum Resolution by Jeremy Lichtman

This was a brief tale of alternate universes or timelines, I’m not really sure because I am no cosmologist. However, it was a fun romp which included a vividly horrifying description of the end of the world caused by a giant meteor impact.

The story resets when the universe decides that no, that won’t due, and the disaster simply occurs in an alternate timeline or maybe “placeline”, with our real snugly safe world unchanged.

The use of the Nemesis and Guy Lombardo references are clever, particularly the conclusion with a Guy Lombardo song playing on a radio introduced at the beginning of the story. Full circle—an effective device indeed!

Defeated by Chris Nance

From alternate timelines to altered perceptions, this is a simple tale of a wack-a-doodle who is heroically ejected from a ship in an attempt to finally rid the world of his nemesis, another similarly space-suited victim of an emergency airlock “big red button” push.

The protagonist hates his enemy, but his enemy treats him with humorous and cordial conversation. Later, the unnamed protagonist is rescued by the ship’s crew, and it turns out he imagined his enemy and was out there all alone. He’s simply a space-born wacko who they toss back into the slammer he previously escaped, shaking their collective heads.

This was a nicely written tale with the big reveal at the end a fun, guilty surprise. The reference to Guy Lombardo was a bit weak, but the dialog was glib and humorous. I liked it.


message 3: by Tom (last edited Jan 04, 2018 01:54PM) (new)

Tom Olbert | 988 comments C. wrote: "Critiques by C. Lloyd Preville

REBIRTH
By Tom Olbert

This is another great story from Tom, which sets the stage with Corrinne’s determination to kill her sexually abusive father, the villainous l..."


Thank you, enormously, C. for the complimentary review, and especially for taking the time and effort to study the mechanics of the story so meticulously.

It's true the point of focus was all over the place; there was a lot going on. But, I was trying to view the whole thing through Corrinne's eyes and illustrate that through her emotional reactions. Personally, I don't think saying "she listened" or the physical detail that she turned her head this way or that would have helped. I also have long held the opinion that prefacing action by saying "as this happened, the POV observed something else happening" weakens the action and contributes nothing towards suspending disbelief. I think it's more direct and more effective to just have the actions happen and then have the POV character react to them emotionally. I think too much dissection or explanation as to why something is happening as it is happening doesn't help, either; better to just hit the reader with events as they happen. I also try to avoid adjectives like "shocked" and try to rely more on visceral emotions.

I admit, I could have made Corrinne's emotional reactions stronger at certain points.


message 4: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 988 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "The Singing" By C. Lloyd Preville

A brilliantly conceived, poetically delivered, tragically comedic story of a quiet and beautiful Armageddon.

A swarm of intelligent alien nanobots perceive humanity as an ecological threat and, in their innocent, simple-minded and ecologically purist way, casually and easily exterminate humanity.

Upon colonizing Earth, the nano-swarm intelligence achieves a symbiotic relationship with the indigenous flora, preferring the simple existence of plant life to the messy, noisy existence of animals. The point of how much more tranquil and peaceful plants are than animals, as well as the gentle existence of swaying trees in an Eden-like forest environment is delivered with poetic artistry.

The Lombardo element is hilariously and brilliantly executed, as one aspect of the nano swarm, having taken the host form of a tree, becomes fascinated with the electronically absorbed memory of the band leader, taken before humanity was wiped out. The swarm being takes Lombardo's name, awed by how this fascinating being celebrated the passage of time through song.

The delicately balanced ecological mindset of the nano intellect ironically proves its undoing as swarms of beetles start devouring the trees with which the swarm minds have become one. Since some of the beetles serve a positive ecological function, the swarm mind doesn't want to exterminate them. The excruciating death of the Guy Lombardo tree being is tragic and poetic.

All extremely imaginative and entertaining. My one criticism is that it perhaps went on just a bit too long; something hard to avoid in so introspective a story.

Overall, I give it a thumbs up.


message 5: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 988 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of - "Time The Avenger" By G.C. Groover

A tale of stark and tragically unjust class division. The story starts out by hitting us hard in the heart and gut. The hero, Jason Barkhamer is a man whose education is limited to a cruel college of hard knocks. His daughter has been raped, and as one of the underclass in a purely haves vs. have-nots society, he has no hope of justice. His son has committed suicide to escape his family's dishonor. Jason had resolved to work towards a better life, but finds things just keep getting worse for his class. He does not react outward, with anger, but retreats inward, into drink and depression.

His life changes dramatically when he is taken into the citadel of the "Starkind", the ruling class. At first dreading punishment, he is staggered to learn he has won the lottery by which a lucky few of the underclass achieve wealth and Starkind status. The news is presented to him by a famous celebrity yacht racer who reveals he is the reincarnation (or, rejuvenation - this is not made clear) of Guy Lombardo. I was reminded of "Hunger Games." And, of course, of our own society's obsession with the lottery. (A social safety valve against revolution?)

I found the beginning extremely moving and promising, but found the ending rather disappointing. The emotional reaction of the protagonist should have been stronger. His grief and desire for justice were seemingly forgotten when his new life begins. (Maybe that was the idea?) The whole concept of rejuvenation was not adequately explained. I felt this was more a preamble to a longer story.

While the sharply divided nature of this world was evident, I didn't see the world as clearly as I wanted to. Perhaps if more time had been spent on description instead of unimportant details of travel, the setting would have been more effectively realized.

Overall, the ending seemed to fall flat. While something certainly changed in a big way for the individual, he didn't seem to grow by it, and the society itself remained unchanged. The muted emotional reaction and ambiguous moral context at the end just didn't do justice to a great beginning, in my view.


message 6: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 988 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Jam Black" by Kalifer Deil

A darkly funny space western about an android bounty hunter on the trail of an interplanetary gang leader.

The first person narrative takes us from the comical exchange between our hero and the mayor of a run-down space colony to a visually spectacular space jump from the Jovian moon Europa to the Saturnian moon Enceladus, where our android hero comes face-to-face with his adversary, the title character, who also turns out to be an android.

When asked why Jam Black is fighting humanity, he replies that he wants to live beyond the imposed lifespan limit humans have placed on sentient androids. (I was immediately reminded of "Blade Runner.") What follows is a moral argument between two slaves, one a rebel, arguably a freedom fighter, the other an apparent "Uncle Tom". As the argument continues, Jam Black sounds the more idealistic of the two, his enemy the more simple-minded. Black accuses his adversary of being a single-purpose machine without soul or conscience. I got the distinct impression I was really listening to an argument between the two sundered halves of one person.

The bounty hunter triggers a nuke and destroys them both. But, in the end (which is not an ending) it turns out they both have an endless array of copies, so the battle between them goes on forever. Our hero realizes his life cannot end as long as there are Jam Black copies to justify his existence. For that, he is overjoyed.

A pointless finish, yet one that seems to ring depressingly true. Read as much or little into it as you like, it's certainly entertaining.


message 7: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 434 comments C. wrote: "Critiques by C. Lloyd Preville

REBIRTH
By Tom Olbert

This is another great story from Tom, which sets the stage with Corrinne’s determination to kill her sexually abusive father, the villainous l..."



Thanks for the review C. I'll admit I struggled with the Guy Lombardo reference! :)


message 8: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 988 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "A New Year's Quantum Resolution"
by Jeremy Lichtman

A brief and beautiful glimpse into shifting alternate realities. From a marvelously detailed description of an old-fashioned radio playing on New Year's Eve in a room with a crackling log fire, delicate and perfect as the frost patterns on the window, to a description of an alternate reality in which the world ends in an astral collision, the apocalypse delivered with the same gentle artistic hand.

The end of the world scene reminded me a little of Bradbury's "Rocket Summer", the opening chapter of "The Martian Chronicles." No characters, just an observer's cosmic perspective of a small town experiencing a world-changing cosmic event. There was a loving embrace of warm, familiar details against a cosmic back-drop, a bitter-sweet flavor overall. It did take me back to Bradbury, whose style I've always loved. The closing scene with the radio playing was melancholy and perfect.

My compliments.


message 9: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 988 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Defeated" by Chris

A bizarre and offbeat tale of suicidal revenge. The protagonist is a man whose sole remaining purpose in life is to kill the man he believes has ruined that life.

The story opens with the two mortal enemies grappling with each other in space suits, adrift in the void and rapidly running out of air. Our hero has apparently blown out the air lock of his enemy's ship during his drunken New Year's Eve partying, reveling in his enemy's long-awaited destruction, not caring that his own life has to end too.

The action consists of fast-moving and delightfully humorous dialogue between the two protagonists. The "villain" is the type who careens recklessly and merrily through life, protesting that all he did in getting his old "buddy" into one nightmarish mess after another was stir up his otherwise pathetically dull existence. He even laughs in the face of imminent death.

The hero seems the more easy-going practical type, who has loved only one woman in his life, his beloved Tess. Her description is very well worded and moving. As it comes down to the end, the hero suddenly finds himself saved, pulled through an air lock, by Tess.

Turns out, the whole thing was a fantasy. The hero is really a mental patient on a kind of hospital space station, Tess is really his therapist, not his lover, and his nemesis is only a figment of his imagination. (Or, his dark, alternate self?)

The concept and the set-up were great. The chatty back-and-forth dialogue kept it moving, the twist at the end was effective and delivered with artful humor.

My only criticism is that I think the story could have benefited from more visual description. Especially at the outset, when the POV character is explaining how the situation came about. I would have prefaced that with a brief but jarring hook of actually seeing the air lock blow out and the two men blown out into space. And, maybe a touch of sensory perception? Maybe something to convey the sense of darkness and weightlessness? It still held my interest, but I just think a touch of flavoring wouldn't have hurt. Overall, a thumbs up.

(Incidentally, I thought the Guy Lombardo reference was very cleverly inserted.)


message 10: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 434 comments Tom wrote: "Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Defeated" by Chris

A bizarre and offbeat tale of suicidal revenge. The protagonist is a man whose sole remaining purpose in life is to kill the man he believes has ru..."


Thanks for your review, Tom! I really appreciate your very thorough critique. :)


message 11: by C. (last edited Jan 05, 2018 11:48AM) (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 734 comments Tom wrote: "Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "The Singing" By C. Lloyd Preville

A brilliantly conceived, poetically delivered, tragically comedic story of a quiet and beautiful Armageddon.

A swarm of intelligen..."


Thanks, Tom, for your really nice review. I must say that you do a consistently outstanding job with reviews--putting in a lot of time to analyze and rate stories. I truly appreciate this and I know everyone else here does as well.

You were absolutely right; my story was a bit long in the descriptions of "tree life." I was too attached to my good idea and played it out too far.

As a writer I'm always getting in the way of my reader's entertainment with my personal pet opinions. It's a blind spot. Instead of using the magenta color as a tiny brush stroke to accent the edge of a shadow like I should, I get all excited about using magenta and smear it all over the scene with a big, dripping wet paint roller. Thanks for noting the mistake, I am going to tweak the story a bit and I'm sure it will be better for it.

Your outside perspectives are highly valuable things. My thanks and gratitude.

-C


message 12: by G.C. (new)

G.C. Groover | 78 comments OK I am taking a stab at critiques. I am trying to provide actionable feedback, directly rating the following areas:

Idea - Originality/creativeness/awesomeness of the idea used to implement the required theme
Mechanics - Writing style/sentence structure/grammarish stuff
Flow - You know, flow. Organization. Would I have done it differently?
Required Elements - Presence and tie-in of all required elements


1 means I thought it was really strong
2 means it was ok
3 means it needs work.

REBIRTH by Tom Olbert

Idea - 1
Mechanics - 1
Flow - 1
Required Elements - 1

Not much to critique here...a well written rollicking tale of the underdog sticking it to the man (with a little inside help). IMO a top contender this month.

Things I liked
- The musical instruments doubling as or hiding weapons was a nice touch.
- The very specific wording as the guards were disposed of (you had me at "disemboweled").
- Bonus points for the Guy Lombardo research (unless he has a stack of vinyl at home and already knew).

Things I didn't like
- If the space station was careening "out of orbit", wouldn't that send it off into space vs burning up upon re-entry? I'm so picky.


Jam Black by Kalifer Deil

Idea - 1
Mechanics - 3
Flow - 2
Required Elements - 3

This is an interesting story but I felt like the execution could have been better. The section of dialogue between the two key figures left me a little confused.

Things I liked
- Android vs. Android is cool
- Recognizing the symbiotic relationship between JAM and Felix at the end was a nice touch.

Things I didn't like
- I found myself distracted by some awkward sentence construction (e.g. "I unpacked it at the loading dock, inspected it thoroughly, assembled it, climbed aboard and shot off towards Enceladus, the supposed home of Jam as Jupiter's huge overbearing orange-banded beauty rose over the horizon." ). This should be 2 or 3 sentences.
- With the 750 word restriction, a long section of dialogue is difficult to manage, there may be a better way to convey the details contained there.
- I felt like Guy Lombardo was just thrown in there. And I guess the New Year's resolution was to get his "man", but the word resolution doesn't appear in the text.


The Singing by Lloyd Preville

Another top contender this month, a very solid story. The idea that the machines merge with plants is pretty cool.

Idea - 1
Mechanics - 1
Flow - 1
Required Elements - 2

Things I liked

- How easily they discarded the "intelligent monkeys"
- Great use of descriptive language as the swarm experienced life.
- I loved the irony of the joined life ending in horrible, horrible pain. Poetic justice? Take that, nanomachine swarm!

Things I didn't like:
- Was the swarm known as Guy Lombardo before the joining? I thought that was the case but maybe it wasn't until the review of electronic data from the dead humans. A ridiculous coincidence if beforehand; that and my confusion made the reference seem weak.


A New Year's Quantum Resolution by Jeremy Lichtman

A story about (I guess?) New Year's Eve in multiple hypothetical realities. We jump around to different events described using rich detail.

Idea - 2
Mechanics - 1
Flow - 3
Required Elements - 3

Things I liked

- Excellent descriptive language
- I liked the last paragraph a lot. Did we end up here from the first paragraph after everyone went to bed?

Things I didn't like

- Not sure I understood this story. Maybe I should have studied more in college.
- Are most of the paragraphs about the same place? I'm still not sure.
- Jumping around left me not sure where I wanted things to end up.
- What was the New Year's resolution?

Defeated by Chris Nance

Top contender #3. This story ended with a nice twist and I had no idea it was coming. Very well formed dialogue between the involved parties.

Idea - 1
Mechanics - 1/2 (there I've destroyed my simple system. This means between a 1 and a 2)
Flow - 1
Required Elements - 2

Things I liked

- Cool idea.
- The nonchalant way they got him back inside and tied him up...like it was business as usual in the outer space crazy house.
- Great dialogue between the different personalities.

Things I didn't like

- The first paragraph needs a little work.
- Guy Lombardo reference is very shallow.


message 13: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 988 comments Thank you, G.C., for that detailed and systematic review.

Maybe I should have said "tumbled" out of orbit or "fallen" out of orbit in order to specify an inward direction as opposed to outward? I said "careened" because it's just more dramatic. (It just means leaning one way or the other, so I guess it could mean outward or inward.)


message 14: by C. (last edited Jan 08, 2018 08:52AM) (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 734 comments Hey G.C.,

Great job on your reviews. I think I'll adopt your methodology, but with a slight modification: a rating system of 1-5 swizzle sticks, 5 being best. A bit more granular and intuitive, I think, as well as encouraging a refreshing beverage as a reward for effort.

With regard to your observation about my story and the apparent ambiguity about the origin of the Guy Lombardo name, here is how I intended it to be interpreted:

The nanomachine swarm, a single unified mind, killed all the humans and digested all the digital content left behind. Later, the localized swarm that inhabited the tree separated itself from the main swarm and decided to name itself Guy Lombardo after "thinking about" the videos already stored in it's itty-bitty distributed nanomachine brain.

Perhaps I should have spelled this out a bit better, but it seemed self-evident to me. However, since I am in the data storage business, it occurs to me that perhaps my assumption was a bit parochial. Yours is an interesting and useful observation.

Thank you for your very smart, organized, and helpful critique! It's exactly these differing points of view which create value, making us a self-improving group of competing but supportive writers. (Thanks, Jot!)

I hope to see more contributions from you in the future.

-C.


message 15: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 434 comments Thanks for your review G.C.! I appreciate your input and liked your review key. As for the Guy Lombardo reference, I really had no idea who he was, so had to look him up. Tough to incorporate a required element I wasn't at all familiar with. Have an amazing day! ;)


message 16: by G.C. (new)

G.C. Groover | 78 comments Tom wrote: "Thank you, G.C., for that detailed and systematic review.

Maybe I should have said "tumbled" out of orbit or "fallen" out of orbit in order to specify an inward direction as opposed to outward? I ..."


You're welcome Tom. Maybe it was the word "out" that got me. The words "decaying" and "deteriorating" come to mind but probably aren't exactly what you were going for. Keep in mind of course that this was an extremely small thing to complain about, but I have to complain about something, right?

Also thanks for your review of my story...I pretty much agree with everything you said. I think next month I'm going to write my story, let it simmer for a week or more, and then go fix everything I hate about it before posting it up here.


message 17: by G.C. (new)

G.C. Groover | 78 comments C. wrote: "Hey G.C.,

Great job on your reviews. I think I'll adopt your methodology, but with a slight modification: a rating system of 1-5 swizzle sticks, 5 being best. A bit more granular and intuitive, I..."


Swizzle sticks, I like it!

w/r/t the Guy Lombardo thing, maybe it's just a matter of the way that section is ordered...after rereading it I think this sentence confused me: "Guy Lombardo watched all the video ever created by man, and discovered his surprising namesake." Kind of a chicken and egg thing for me. I'd suggest removing the first Guy Lombardo reference, instead using a sentence like "One particular localized swarm of nanomachine elements, joined with an Ash tree." Then jump into the name thing.

Thanks for your review as well. I'll try to continue with mine as we go forward.


message 18: by G.C. (new)

G.C. Groover | 78 comments Chris wrote: "Thanks for your review G.C.! I appreciate your input and liked your review key. As for the Guy Lombardo reference, I really had no idea who he was, so had to look him up. Tough to incorporate a req..."

You're welcome Chris. It's hard sometimes to get the required elements into the story without feeling like you're just checking the box (at least it is for me) and that's why I decided to add that as a review item. I feel like those requirements get overlooked at times.


message 19: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 988 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Nemesis" by Karl

A brief and straight-to-the-heart narrative of sibling rivalry in the future age of cloning.

The protagonist is one of two cloned copies of an original human female. Like a twin sister, the protagonist is tortured by her matched clone's supposed superiority. Always a little prettier, a little more popular. Finally, she can't stand it anymore and resolves to murder her despised mirror image. The moment of murder is handled perfectly, the suspense, the moment when their eyes meet, the escape followed by the moment of elated liberation, when she knows she is truly unique. Then, when disposing of the victim's purse, she finds a New Year's Eve card intended for her, in which she discovers her 'other self' idolized her and felt just as envious of her, and her victory turns to bitter sorrow. Grass always greener. Don't know what you've got 'till it's gone.

Short, sweet and hard hitting. Mostly straight narrative, but just the right amount of emotion at just the right moments to deliver it perfectly. Bull's eye.


message 20: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 988 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "When My Dream Boat Comes Home" by Justin

A darkly humorous and tragic tale of an aging has-been hydro-foil racer in his last race and racing for his life, his debt to a murderous crime boss having come due. The suspense builds as the seconds tick down to the race, which takes place on a colonized water planet where hydro racing is complicated by the presence of gigantic, predatory fish. Our hero loses the race and dramatically decides to take his enemy down with him in a kamikaze blaze of glory.

A good set-up and a well-envisioned world as the back-drop to a classic tale of an old fighter's last fight. I think the story would have benefitted from more description of the surroundings; more show, less tell. The world was well imagined, but I really didn't see it to my satisfaction. Maybe if less time were spent on the countdown and more on the ocean world and the attack of the giant fish (which sounded like a great scene, but I felt like we just skimmed over it) the story would have had more texture, more impact.


message 21: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 988 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Fire Island" by Jot Russell

A wonderfully atmospheric 1950's type husband-vs-wife murder plot in the tradition of Hitchcock.

Not really a science fiction story in the classic sense, though it apparently takes place centuries in the future in a nostalgic re-creation of 1950's Fire Island.

The delightfully rich atmosphere put me in mind of Ray Bradbury stories of the period. The plot slowly building suspense as the wife suspects her husband of plotting her murder put me in mind of the Hitchcock classic "Suspicion." The twist comes when the husband saves his wife from a fall, restoring her faith in him, then lures her out to the beach and reveals that he is planning to kill her, after all. The conclusive moments of their final duel are excellent, the suspense building to an explosive conclusion.

I think the story would have been stronger if it had been delivered with a less detached POV. I got the feeling we were standing aloof; it was hard to tell whose eyes we were seeing through. Perhaps that was the idea, in order to hide the truth until the very end, but I would have preferred the story told more strongly and directly, from the wife's POV.


message 22: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1100 comments Mod
Thanks Tom! The first version of this story, back in 2012, was written in first-person from the wife's perspective. I tend to write in first-person frequently, but am actually trying to write more now in third. For me, I think a story should be able to provide the point-of-view for each of the characters, not just one.


message 23: by Tom (last edited Jan 21, 2018 04:29PM) (new)

Tom Olbert | 988 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "Resolution" by Marianne

A post-apocalyptic tale of an enslaved world and one clerk's quest to salvage the dwindling humanity of a dying society.

The story opens with a supervisor (apparently from some kind of historical archive office) handing the POV character a piece of film from a time before all that remains of humanity was assimilated into something called the "Bio" which apparently has created a kind of genetically programmed caste system.
("Divergent?")

A friend of hers has apparently died, presumably executed by the oppressive regime, leaving our heroine with an unwelcome promotion, but a rare opportunity to crack the walls of the perfect society. (I was reminded of Winston Smith in the Ministry of Truth from Orwell's "1984.")

The film is a New Year's Eve celebration featuring Guy Lombardo. The POV character is fascinated with the gaiety and freedom of a forgotten age supplanted by "gray survival." The simple act of playing the film on public 3D vid has a devastatingly liberating effect on the emotionally stagnant future world.

My main criticism is that we really don't see enough of the repressed world of the future. (Orwell made us hate the future world with grisly visual detail and spoke of some absolute minimum standard instinctively sensed by all human beings.) The best visual scene in the story, I thought was the protagonist walking up an icy walk to her apartment, a ruined city across the river. I think that scene should have been at the beginning of the story, not the end. The oppression is hinted at, but not keenly felt.


message 24: by Marianne (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 352 comments Thanks, Tom for the critique. Interesting points, all. :) I placed the river walk at the end due to the way I set the chronology: discovery, rebellion, resolution, ie the ball comes down. And nothing is more soul sucking than being in a closed, windowless room for hours on end. I did have some other sentences about rationing, to add to the gloom, but had to stick to the 750 limit. Have read Orwell; never read Divergent or seen the movies. I do wonder exactly what the Bio is, like Fracture. Two warring programs or persons.....


message 25: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 970 comments Tom wrote: "Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "When My Dream Boat Comes Home" by Justin

A darkly humorous and tragic tale of an aging has-been hydro-foil racer in his last race and racing for his life, his debt to..."


Hi Tom,

Thanks for the great critique. I had a really hard time with this month's elements. Trying to wedge Guy Lombardo in there without making it feel tacked on was difficult for me. I thought Guy's interest in hydro racing would be a good story, which is why my hydro is even named like his hydro's were. The story title is a song title from Guy's extensive library, and having the race count down tied to the new year all seemed to work.

The fish attack is pretty thin, so I totally agree with you. If I had more words, I feel I certainly could have fleshed this out to be more suspenseful.

Thanks again!


message 26: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 988 comments Critique by Tom Olbert of -- "The Listener" by Greg

A very well envisioned first person narrative of a radio telescope evolving into a sentient cosmic observer. And, protagonist. Alone in deep space, its human creator long dead, our POV character looks endlessly further back through time towards the beginning of the universe, growing into an immense artificial lifeform surrounding a star. The dream-like cosmological narrative put me in mind of Carl Sagan sailing through the universe in his imaginary ship of the mind in the "Cosmos" series.

Although a bit coldly delivered, the direct, declarative description conjures a striking vision of an immense radio telescopic array straddling a sun. Star Trek tech talk, a touch of military action and comedy relief in the form of Gilligan's Island and Guy Lombardo signals still bouncing around the cosmic void millennia later makes it an enjoyable read.

I would have liked a bit more of a jolt...like a birthshock at the moment the observer/protagonist becomes sentient, but maybe that would take too much time from the cosmic seeking.


message 27: by Greg (new)

Greg Krumrey (gkrumrey) | 170 comments Thanks for the feedback. I am saving critiques for when I have time to rewrite, without the 750 word limit. it will be fun to expand the stories and the critiques are a great starting point.


message 28: by G.C. (new)

G.C. Groover | 78 comments My second group of critiques. As I said before:

I am trying to provide actionable feedback, directly rating the following areas:

Idea - Originality/creativeness/awesomeness of the idea used to implement the required theme
Mechanics - Writing style/sentence structure/grammarish stuff
Flow - You know, flow. Organization. Would I have done it differently?
Required Elements - Presence and tie-in of all required elements


1 means I thought it was really strong
2 means it was ok
3 means it needs work.


Nemesis by Karl Freitag

Idea - 1
Mechanics - 2
Flow - 1
Required Elements - 3

A solid story that packs a lot into very little. Word count? We don't need no stinking word count! (246 in case you were wondering. Karl puts us all to shame with our complaining about the 750 limit)

Things I liked

- Clones rock. Nice that they are always in pairs..but why? Redundancy?
- Short and sweet. Packs a punch.

Things I didn't like

- Some structure issues IMO. Example: "The look of puzzlement on her face was something I’ll never forget as I vaporized her." I would prefer: "The look of puzzlement on her face as I vaporized her was something I'll never forget."
- Guy Lombardo seemed just thrown in, and apparently we don't need no stinking New Year's resolution either. At least not explicitly.




Resolution by Marianne Petrino

Idea - 1
Mechanics - 2
Flow - 2
Required Elements - 1

Another well-written tale to add to the pile of well-written tales this month. This one sort of reminded me in some ways of "Sword of Heaven" by Tom Olbert from back in November. Historian/archeologist finds thing from the past. I mean, it's different; but when I read it that's what I thought of.


Things I liked

- Random brain scanning to keep the opressed in line. Nice!
- The writing conveyed tons of emotion - very descriptive.

Things I didn't like

- I felt like some things needed more explaining - Buster, Bio, Fracture...I think I didn't understand everything.
- Some random structure issues.

P.S. - MS Word said 749 words, you said WordPerfect said 730. Do these programs count words differently? WordPerfect is still around? :-)


When My Dream Boat Comes Home - Justin Sewall

Idea - 1
Mechanics - 2
Flow - 2
Required Elements - 3


Justin weaves us a variation on a tale that must be as old as sporting events: the fix is in. Or is it?

Things I liked

- Big bad fish that eat stuff.
- The green goon that was the mobster's muscle.
- You stole my boat racer thing and I want it back (j/k :-)

Things I didn't like

- It's hard for me to explain but I felt like most of the story was seat-of-pants. I was riding on the city bus instead of in the Ferarri. The second section of the story was better for me than the first or third.
- New Year's Resolution? None that I could see.


Fire Island by Jot Russell

Idea - 1
Mechanics - 2
Flow - 1
Required Elements - 2

A more traditional story from Jot, not a beepy-boopy science fiction story but a well-written story set in some future time with future stuff. For me, that is often the way to go...a good story is always a good story, just like a bad story with a lot of the aforementioned beepy boops is still always a bad story. Not that Jot writes bad stories, but you get what I'm saying?


Things I liked

- For me this was a more literary story from Jot...and I liked it. That's why it's here in "Things I liked".
- The double-take when I thought he was going to kill her, only to not kill her, only to try again later.


Things I didn't like

- "grabbed hold of her arm"...instead I like just plain old "grabbed her arm". See I saved you two words! There are more things like this in there too.
- Guy Lombardo reference was weak.


The Listener by Greg Krumrey


Idea - 1+
Mechanics - 1
Flow - 1
Required Elements - 1

The last story submitted this month is (IMO of course) another top contender. I guess all kinds of things can become sentient, so why would anyone be surprised by a living radio telescope?

Things I liked

- Telescope comes alive. Cool, plus it can influence its environment. Double cool. Does the telescope have a name? (Mycroft Holmes is already taken)
- The telescope apparently has no taste because it watches "Gilligan's Island" - LoL


Things I didn't like

- I felt like the whole interaction with the scavengers had (at the same time) both too much and too little detail. I would suggest providing less/more, whichever you like better.


message 29: by Marianne (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 352 comments Hi, G.C. and thanks for the comments. My word count was 750 by ye old Wordperfect :)

I tend to like a bit of mystery in a tale, especially one of only 750 words. So no specific details about Bio, Buster or Fracture. I will let the reader dream on it.

For me the character is the focus, generally. Stories that dump a lot of info on me, I tend to skim.

And archaeologists are always digging up something in these ruined city/dystopian tales. It is a well worn trope, to be sure.

Was there anything you specifically did not like about the story structure, since you mentioned it?


message 30: by G.C. (new)

G.C. Groover | 78 comments Marianne wrote: "Hi, G.C. and thanks for the comments. My word count was 750 by ye old Wordperfect :)
https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...#
I tend to like a bit of mystery in a tale, especially one of only 750 words. So no specific details about Bio, ..."


Hi Marianne! You're very welcome for the comments.

For starters, ugh. I *swear* that I saw 730 words at the end of your story. I swear it. But I see that it says 750. I apologize for my worn-out tired eyes.

I get what you are saying about the specific details, but for me there wasn't enough there to prime the pump of my imagination. Not everyone is like me though (thank goodness!)

As for structure, I was talking sentence structure...and please don't take what I say too seriously. I am easily distracted by sentences that I think could be better. It's something I have issues with all the time myself because I find it very hard to see my writing with the fresh eyes needed to identify shortcomings. I find them easily enough later, after it's too late.

Below are some examples of what I saw. I hope they are helpful.

I set to work, transferring the grainy images to digital format. The comma doesn't really work here for me.

They fixed their gaze atop a building upon a glowing ball, which began to descend down a long pole. Ditto here.

I typed a slightly off set of keystrokes. I didn't like this sentence, I sort of knew what you were saying but...

As Buster had taught me, I kept special channels open for Fracture, and with a mixture of obsolete code, I programmed my plan. This needs rework. Perhaps a semicolon after Fracture, or make it more than one sentence.

An upgrade would happen tomorrow, when the calendar marked the start of a new year, a day as dreary as all the others before it. This needs rework as well. Maybe you're trying to say too much here. I'd suggest something but I can't work it out yet.


message 31: by Marianne (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 352 comments Thanks for the examples :) I tend to be of the old Oxford comma school, so I use the comma more than most. Also, for me, a comma is a dramatic pause, a breath. Having a reading issue, the lack of commas today makes comprehension a bit harder for me. Finally, much of my oddish sentence structure is me, my style. My panache? ;)


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